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Physician Cross-Training: A Healthy Way to Beat Burnout

Physician Cross-Training: A Healthy Way to Beat Burnout

Training to become a physician gives one a unique skill set to be successful in almost any situation. It takes discipline, drive, determination, and self-sacrifice to get into medical school, to make it through successfully, and then to excel (or just survive) in residency and fellowship. A physician spends a decade or more learning, training, and practicing to reach a primary goal—serving the community through acquired skill and knowledge. Sometimes it feels like a very hard ascent up a steep mountain.

So why do many doctors get to that point and wonder, “Is this it?  Is this the summit of the mountain I’ve been struggling to climb? Why isn’t the view as lovely as I thought it would be?  And why don’t I have the sense of accomplishment I thought I would have?”

The problem that underlies these questions could be something akin to what athletes call, “overtraining.”

The athletic world is full of success stories that can be attributed to some of the same skills a doctor attains over time—discipline, drive, determination, and self-sacrifice. Runners, in particular, must hone those skills to win races and run faster and faster times.  But there is a limit to the training a runner can do before he or she gets injured. Staying with the runner-doctor simile, the intense training required to become a healthcare professional may also have a limit. The athlete may suffer an injury, and the doctor may suffer from burnout. Cross training—ie, alternating running with another intense activity such as cycling or swimming—can help a runner get stronger and faster while avoiding injury.

In the same way that cross training can help an athlete, diversifying your skill set can help you as a physician.

Why cross training for physicians?
Lisa Roberts, MD, has learned that a diversified skill set makes her a better physician.  Lisa always wanted to “climb that mountain,” make it to the summit, and be a full-fledged doctor. For 8 years she worked and trained to become a board certified pediatrician with a neonatology fellowship.

For many years she felt burdened by the challenges of medicine. She was worn down by the stresses and high performance expectations placed on her. She felt ill-equipped to handle the heavy patient loads and the social and emotional demands of patients and their families.

Her biggest challenge, however, was finding out how to continue serving in a field she had longed to be in and had given up so much to join. She felt lost and confused and didn’t know which way to turn. At first she turned to books and the Internet. Lisa researched career change and options for doctors.

Finally, she asked for help. Lisa found a mentor. With this person’s guidance, she learned that she had the skills and abilities needed to master the business side of medicine. Specifically, she began to work as a physician advisor to help her colleagues with difficult cases. This additional facet of her career allowed her to use her medical knowledge and experience in a non-traditional way to continue to help patients. Lisa found that this “cross-training” made her a stronger and better doctor. Like an athlete, diversifying the skills she uses on a weekly basis gave her more energy and passion for her career.

“I no longer feel stuck or ‘trapped’ in clinical medicine,” Lisa says. “I can still be a doctor. I can still serve patients and interact with my colleagues or others at the hospital. I finally feel like I have a wonderful job that would have eluded me had I stayed in clinical practice.”

 
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